Ahhh Full moon time. Dogs howl, backpackers go crazy on a Thai beach, men turn into werewolves and, apparently, the gods are more apt to hear all our pleas. At least in Hinduism this is the case. All things ‘auspicious’ happen on full moons so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that one of the ‘Big Three’ Hindu gods (Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu) would get hitched up when the celestial body is at it’s brightest.
The festival is knows as the Virupaksha Cart Festival, Virupaksha being the name of the main temple in Hampi and one of Shiva’s many forms. The festival is a celebration of the marriage between Shiva and Pavarti, his beloved wife who together bore the famous half Elephant/half Man God – Ganesh. The day begins with everyone heading to the rivers edge for bath time.
Shortly after bath time, many pilgrims set up stalls selling various items. Colorful powders mixed with water create the paste that you see adorning many peoples foreheads. During festival times, the powders are used a bit more liberally and extend well beyond just the top of the head.
Festivals are also a good time to get a little grooming done.
If a child has a shaven head however, we were told that that is a symbol that their mother died. In a nation of over 1 billion people and swelling, humanity reaches it limits and the harsh realities of life are present almost daily.
Pakoras are always available – breaded and deep fried veggies.
Bananas are used as offerings for the festival.
Hours before the start of the ceremony, Lakshmi is still hard at work, giving out blessings for a few rupees. You hold out a coin, any coin will do, and she will scoop it up with her trunk, pat you on the head and hand the coin to her handler. Elephants are big eaters as you might could imagine and the cost of feeding them is not cheap.
The religious aspects of the festival involve the temple building two large carts, or vehicles, as tall as 3-4 stories high. Both are then ornately decorated in flowers and colorful swaths of fabrics. On festival day, the images of the two gods are moved from the temple to the top of the carts. Temple attendants set up below the carts blessing worshipers by cracking coconuts over the cart where the pilgrims then drink the water. The Sadus (holy men) ‘ride’ while thousands of worshipers pull the carts from one end of the bazaar to the other. The crowds below chuck bananas at the cart attempting to hit the little room at the top holding the images. The ground quickly becomes covered in banana pulp, peels and coconut water. At least it’s organic.
We found a balcony and watched the swell of people below. Large wedges are placed below the wheels all the crowd of men jump on top to get the carts moving. Over 200 men and one cute elephant join together to make the wheels turn. In between the carts men dance around to the beat of drums. The whole scene is a crazy mesh of flying bananas, powdered colors and grabby Indian men. Word to the women – be prepared to be touched if you throw yourself into a festival in India. You notice the absence of local women in the crowd – there is a reason for that.
Of course, a party is not complete without a Holy Elephant. In steps Lakshmi leadng the way. Dressed in her full regalia, the lovely lady parts the crowd like no other, collecting bananas along the way.
With all that partying and colorful powders thrown through the air, even the largest of land animals needs a bath! Next post – Bath time with Lakshmi…PG rated of course.